Southern Belize Communities Engage in Draft Mayan Customary Land Rights Policy Consultations
Over the weekend, the government continued consultations on the Draft Mayan Customary Land Rights Policy in southern Belize. On Saturday, hundreds of residents from several Mayan communities gathered in Big Falls Village, Toledo District, to discuss the policy with Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs representatives. The discussions included historical data and concerns from residents surrounding the proposed demarcation process. Love News’ correspondent, Celia Mahung, was there and spoke to Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, about the importance of engaging with communities after the policy faced much scrutiny.
Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “They are speaking with loud voices. They are understanding what is in the draft policy. They are understanding that we are not trying to pen anybody into a very tiny space like a kilometer or two kilometers. That’s a starting point for a claim but we are hearing from the people of Big Falls what is their considered view after looking at the draft policy making consideration, consulting with the four zones of the village and then coming together as village members along with the alcalde and along with the village chairman and councilors and we are hearing a position. I won’t state what that position is, but we must listen to our people as Minister Oscar Requena has said. Our government not only believes fully in the democratic process, but we also believe in making sure that we advance the position of the country in relation to the Caribbean Court of Justice ruling. And we are hoping that although this is a difficult time that we are in terms of villages making their decision, we are hoping that in another year and a half we would be able to wrap up the law so that the supervisory jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice can come to an end. Because this thing cannot go on endlessly. So the government must make proposals. We must consult with the villages and then after that we would take whatever proposed laws to the National Assembly. But there’s one more thing that I need to add and that is that no one particular group can dictate to the government what to do. We will listen to the people and we will do as broad consultations as we possibly can. But the final decision will have to rest with the House of Representatives and the Senate and that is the National Assembly in terms of passing the law.”
Minister of Local Government and Toledo West Area Representative Oscar Requena also spoke to our newsroom and says the discussions were able to educate the attendees on the benefits of GOB’s proposal.
Oscar Requena, Area Representative, Toledo West: “Essentially today what happened is the consultation process of the draft Maya Land Policy continued here in Big Falls. You saw there was a very good turnout. People had the opportunity to be able to share their concerns, the issues they have in relation to the draft Maya Land Policy, and they were able to also get clarifications from the government side through senior council Marshalleck who took time to explain the draft Maya Land Policy. Essentially, the people had the opportunity to be able to express how they felt about it and how they feel their community wants to move forward. For me as the area representative I believe that the consultation process is very important. I am certain that the government will continue to go community by community consulting the people and at the end of the day, we have to respect the will of the people.”
It was noted that consultations on the draft land policy with individual villages continue.